Pop-Ed: Ranking the Star Trek Films

daniel cohen goes into deep space …

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Space. The Final Frontier. These are the voyages … yadda, yadda, yadda, you know the rest. In all the franchises and fanbases in existence, none may be more passionate, die- hard, dedicated, or even as fickle then the Trekkies. Heck, there’s even been two movies made about their fandom. Being a Star Wars fan, Star Trek is something that just never appealed to me. But like a lot of people, seeing the 2009 J.J. Abrams film opened my eyes. And with the long-awaited sequel (Star Trek Into Darkness) now at our door step, what better time to rank all previous Star Trek films in existence.

Now I’m warning die-hard Trek fans, this is a layman’s point of view. I’ve only seen the films, and know very little about the shows. There will be controversies. I’m sure Trek fans have certain movies ranked higher based on a reference that’s made to an obscure jar of milk in the corner of the room in Episode 6 of Next Generation that is shown again in Deep Space Nine, which mirrors a similar jar of milk found on the opposite side of the room in Season 2, Episode 7 of the Original Series. But enough dilly-dally, let’s do some Transwarp beaming with Spock, Data, Sulu, Geordi, Kirk, and all the rest…it’s my Star Trek Movie Rankings – Worst to First!

*SPOILERS GALORE*

11. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

*Original Cast

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Right before the 2009 version was released, I wanted to get some sense of the world that was Star Trek. I didn’t feel like diving into the show, so naturally I went with the first film despite numerous warnings of, ‘Start with Wrath of Khan! For the love of God, just watch Khan!’ I should have listened to them. Holy Romulan Ale, this is one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve only seen it once, but just remembering the endless shots of ‘Here’s the ship … from yet another angle,’ was enough to make me wonder, ‘This is what all the fuss is about?’ I guess on some level I can respect what they were trying to do, but this was my first exposure to all things Star Trek, and it almost ended right there if weren’t for the glowing reviews of 2009’s Star Trek.

10. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998):

*Next Generation Cast

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To be honest, after the original, I don’t think any of the remaining films are bad. But there are certainly degrees of ‘Awesome’ to ‘eh.’ This is the most ‘eh.’ It’s not a bad concept – a society where people reject technology in a galaxy that is built on nothing but technology. I wasn’t a big fan of Riker (Jonathan Frakes) in the previous two Next Generation movies, but this was his funniest and most charismatic turn by far. It’s a tight story, and the villains were also solid as these revenge seeking assholes who were scarred for rejecting the peaceful ways of the Ba’ku. The only thing that was truly awful was Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) romantic relationship with one of the Ba’ku. But other then that, it’s an okay effort, just nothing to write home about.

9. Star Trek: Generations (1994):

*Both Original/Next Generation Casts

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Generations has some promising ideas, but it suffers a lot from the first film’s problem, which is complete and utter boredom. The problem with Generations is that it’s supposed to sell us on the Next Generation cast officially taking over all remnants of the original Enterprise crew, yet even with just Kirk (William Shatner), Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Scotty (James Doohan) together in one scene at the beginning, that was far more interesting then any of the Next Generation stuff. Also, the whole Data (Brent Spiner) sub-plot with the emotion chip was just an excuse for awful comic relief, when it should have been something far more serious and character developing. Malcolm McDowell as the villain Soran was also a complete waste. But the shining moment of this film is the union of Kirk and Picard at the end, and that was pretty stellar. Shatner probably gives some of his best acting here. They should have just made the whole movie about them together, instead of just 15-20 minutes towards the end. Also, SPOILER ALERT, Kirk dies … and it’s a fairly anti-climactic death, albeit a good final line in ‘It was…fun.’ Star Trek: Generations … pretty clunky overall, but an epic meeting between the two Captains to be sure.

8. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991):

*Original Cast

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This is by far the biggest controversy. From what I understand, this is a favorite among Trek fans. I don’t get it. It’s decent, but I barely remember it. I’m not sure what is so great about this entry. There’s some solid Kirk/Bones stuff to be sure, and I love the dinner scene between Kirk & crew, and the Klingons. But other then that, I’m having a hard time understanding why this is hailed as one of the great Trek films? It definitely has a different feel in that it’s certainly less silly then Star Trek V, but I’m pretty ‘whatever’ with Star Trek VI. This is one where a Trek fan needs to sit down with me and explain why it’s great. Plus, when you have a villain with an eye-patch, aren’t you getting a bit lazy?

7. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989):

*Original Cast

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This is probably the Trek film that gets the most shit from fans. I’ll give you that the last 15 minutes are pretty bad, but before that, I actually think it’s a real good movie. One of my biggest problems with Star Trek is that these characters are so regimented and one-note at times, it was nice to see them act like human beings for a change (no pun-intended on Spock). Yeah, I love the camping scenes, okay! Get over it! We get to see Kirk, Bones (DeForest Kelley), and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) joke around for once. But in all seriousness, I actually think this three way character development remains all the way through, especially when they are just reflecting on the top ship deck in front of the boat wheel. If I’m trying to get inside the head of a Trek fan, I could see them flipping out about Spock getting a half-brother (Sybok) pretty late in the game. I felt he was a good villain though with interesting motivations. But yea, I’ll give you that the climax of talking to a lame giant blue head was pretty stupid. Although, Kirk does have some funny lines with him. ‘Excuse me…what does God need with a starship?’

6. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002):

*Next Generation Cast

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Overall, I just found this one thoroughly entertaining. It starts off a little rough, as Picard becomes a jokester for some reason. But once the villain, Shinzon (a clone of Picard), comes into play, it gets pretty interesting. While the origin of Shinzon and his motivations were a little confusing, I have to give him extra points by law because he is played by Tom Hardy. This one has pretty solid action, including a great space battle. But the reason I’m giving this film more love then most is because Data’s death scene is pretty damn powerful. It’s Data … and he dies. Come on!

5. Star Trek: First Contact (1996):

*Next Generation Cast

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Easily the best of the Next Generation films. The Borgs are great villains, and we get a truly personal story with Picard to go along with it. I also love this idea of exploring ‘First Contact,’ and Zefram Cochran (James Cromwell) discovering warp drive, which is basically the entire foundation of the whole Star Trek universe. There’s also some riveting action, including a gut-wrenching gravity battle on top of the Enterprise. ‘Assimilate this!’ Worf (Michael Dorn), what a bad ass. Next Generation clearly wants you to think Data is the most interesting character, and we get plenty of great interactions between him and the Borgs. This is just a tight, well crafted story all around. Can someone tell me though why Geordi (Levar Burton) would look like Michael Jackson in 2063?

4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986):

*Original Cast

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Out of all the Star Trek movies, this might be the single best story. First of all, seeing the Enterprise crew having to interact in 1986 is fricking brilliant. Especially for someone like Spock – a Vulcan with memory loss walking around 300 years before his time … talk about a fish out of water. Speaking of fish, this movie has nothing to do with them, because it’s about whales. Yeah, the idea of traveling back in time to transport whales to the future so they can communicate with an probe that threatens to destroy the Earth is crazy, but also genius. This movie has every reason to fail, but they were able to straddle a line that never broke, and delivered one of the most engaging Trek movies to date.

3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982):

*Original Cast

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‘KHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAANNNNNNNN!’ Aside from the 2009 version, this is the only other Trek movie that has probably been seen by many non-Trekkers. To be honest, I don’t really have a lot to say about this film. It pretty much speaks for itself. The tension in the last 30 minutes is just gorgeous, and Ricardo Montalban’s Khan is easily the best Trek villain, and by a pretty wide margin. My favorite Khan moment is when his henchman tells him he’s won by obtaining the Genesis device, but he doesn’t even care … he wants Kirk! This is like Apollo Creed punching back in the 15th round against Rocky in Rocky II. But this film is of course best known for the death of the one and only Spock. And yea, it’s a pretty powerful death scene. I wasn’t alive in 1982, but I if I was, I would have been writing ‘Leonard Nimoy Oscar Nomination’ a lot. His performance in the death scene is that good. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan … a classic.

2. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984):

*Original Cast

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Here’s where I’m going to justify my argument for this one over Khan. On Seinfeld, Jerry and Kramer apparently had this same argument, where Jerry claimed Khan was ‘the better picture,’ but Kramer is the one who chooses Search For Spock. Come on, I got Kramer on my side! But the reason I’m giving Search For Spock the slight edge is that as sad and powerful as Spock’s death was, people knew Spock wasn’t really going to stay dead. Spock could have easily been brought back in lazy fashion, completely undoing the emotional impact of the previous film. But the way they do it is absolutely brilliant. The idea of the Genesis created planet re-birthing Spock is seamless. And when you finally get the Leonard Nimoy reveal at the very end on top of the Vulcan citadel as the Crew embraces him…just beautiful. But aside from the Spock stuff, I also like the villain Kruge. How can you go wrong with Christopher Lloyd as a villain? You also get DeForest Kelley acting like Spock, which is simply a delight. And just like with Khan, this film had it’s own depressing death scene … no, I’m not talking about Kirk’s son, David (Merritt Butrick). I’m talking about the Enterprise. The Enterprise blows up! Come on … it doesn’t get more emotional than that.

1. Star Trek (2009):

*Original Enterprise Crew…Sort Of

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I guess this is final proof that I’m a newbie Star Trek fan. But this entire movie is just an absolute pleasure to watch. The brilliance of this film is that it’s a reboot, sequel, and prequel all in one movie. I know die-hard Trek fans don’t want to hear it, but all the continuity of the Trek universe was kept in tact. Now we’re just looking at an alternate timeline. It’s like watching an entire franchise based off the alternate 1985 Back to the Future II timeline. But enough with the timeline shenanigans, this is simply just a great movie. The casting is outstanding. These guys clearly emulate the original crew members, yet still kept them fresh. DeForest Kelley’s Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy was the hardest to duplicate, but Karl Urban is a master here. But the best performance is Zachary Quinto’s Spock. This is one hell of a performance. And it’s fascinating to see a younger, more emotionally fueled Spock. I also don’t think the villain gets enough credit in this one. I love Eric Bana’s performance as Nero, a really, really mad as hell Romulan. Leonard Nimoy’s appearance is completely organic, not forced at all. But I’m going to be shallow for a moment, because what this movie has that no other Star Trek film does is completely and unapologetic exhilarating action. I’ll give you that we probably aren’t going to see the innovative stories that we did with the original films, but I do think we’ll see more deeply constructed character development, especially with Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock’s relationship, which was my favorite part of the 2009 film. I could watch this movie everyday, and I cannot wait to travel ‘Into Darkness’ with my favorite Enterprise crew once again …’Live long and prosper.’

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.